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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Terry Spear: HEART OF THE JAGUAR SERIES


Author:  Terry Spear   
Series:  HEART OF THE JAGUAR SERIES   
Plot Type:  Soul-Mate Romance (SMR)  
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor2  
Publisher and Titles:  Sourcebooks
          Savage Hunger (10/2012)
          Jaguar Fever (8/2013)
          Jaguar Hunt (8/2014)
          Jaguar Pride (2/2015)


This post was revised and updated on 3/18/15 to include a review of Jaguar Pride, the fourth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first three novels.


                 NOVEL 4:  Jaguar Pride                 
     Once again a pair of JAG agents sweats through 300+ pages as they chase after big-game poachers in the rain forests of Costa Rica and fall in love along the way. This time the lovers/partners are Huntley Anderson (brother of Tammy from book 3) and Melissa Overton. They have completed three missions together and find that they make a great team. At the very beginning of the story, their romance hasn't yet blossomed because both are dating other people. After each one has a break-up (very early in the book), the friendship/lust/love cycle begins. Unfortunately, the dialogue between the lovers is so stilted and awkward that it's hard to find any real spark between them until they hit the sheets and no words are necessary.

     As usual, the plot is a swirl of scenes in which Melissa and Huntley (always "Huntley," never "Hunt") sneak around the tropical forest tracking down the poachers, avoiding snakes and crocodiles, rescuing animals, and getting shot atand sometimes hit bytranquilizer darts and bullets. Spear seems to be stuck in a "twins" rut. She had two sets of twins in the previous book, and now she has two more sets in this one. When Melissa and Huntley rescue a pair of jaguar female cubs, they get stuck with babysitting the little ones while other JAG members send in a covert plane to rescue the babies. While they are holed up in their cabana with the cubs, the partners fall hard for each other and make their new relationship official. (The second pair of twin cubsalso rescued by Melissa and Huntleyare barely incidental to the plot.)

     Once the cubs are safely on their way to the U.S., Melissa and Huntley join up with some other agents and go off to rescue the cubs' parents, who have been captured by the primary villain. The rest of the story involves the partners' allowing themselves to be captured so that they can find the parents and then take down the poachers. Even though they are frequently in the isolated depths of the rain forest, they never lose their cell phone signalhighly improbableso they are always in contact with Martin, their JAG boss, who never fails to bail them out of various dangerous predicaments.

     This is another formulaic, predictable story that isn't significantly different in structure from the previous books: Two good-looking, ready-for-romance shifters fall in love, hunt down bad guys, risk their lives for others, and go off into an HEA future. Melissa has some last-minute doubts about her readiness for romantic commitment, but she gets over it very quickly so that the book can head toward its happy ending. By the way, "Huntley" has to be the worst shifter-hero name eversounds like a stuffy English lord, not a sexy jaguar. To read an excerpt from Jaguar Pride, click HERE to go to the book's Amazon.com page and then click on the cover art.

               WORLD-BUILDING               
     In this series, Terry Spear has shifted her story telling from werewolves to jaguar shifters. These jaguars are most comfortable in the hot and humid rain forests of the Amazon, where they can run free and feast on caiman, turtles, and other wild game. Each book tells the love story of one jaguar couple from first lust to HEA.

     In the same manner that she does in her WEREWOLF SERIES, Spear includes information here about jaguar biology and behavior. Jaguars are not the pack animals that wolves are. Instead, they are loners who live solitary lives (except for mothers and cubs), so these stories won't have the large and loyal social groups that we see in the WEREWOLF SERIES. Click HERE to read my review of Spear's WEREWOLF SERIES

     Christine Feehan has written a similar series, but with leopards instead of jaguars. The two animals are quite similar, but they live in widely separate areas. Jaguars are native to South America, while leopards are native to Asia and Africa. There are also a few physical differences between the two. Click HERE for an article that compares the two species. Click HERE to read my review of Christine Feehan's LEOPARD SERIES. Click HERE to read an interview with Terry Spear about her shifter romances.

               NOVEL 1:  Savage Hunger               
     The Prologue sets up the romance for this book: When U.S. Army Captain Kathleen ("Kat") McKnight's cover is blown while she is infiltrating a South American drug cartel deep in the Amazon rain forest, she is rescued by a mysterious man who seems to have been accompanied by a jaguar. He tells her that his name is Connor Anderson. When military troops eventually get to the scene, Connor slips away into the jungle and she never sees him again. Badly woundedboth physically and emotionallyKat is transported back to the U.S. where she suffers from PTSD, thinks constantly about Connor, and dumps her fiancé. One year later, she heads back to that same rain forest on the pretense of saying "thank you" to Connor for saving her life. 

     Unfortunately, the improbabilities begin to pile up early in the book and don't stop until the very end. First, we are to believe that Kat goes off by herself through a thick, pathless jungle with only a sketchy idea of how to get to her destination. She starts off with a single guide, but he leaves her, promising that he will soon return. When he doesn't return, she just starts slogging through the jungle with absolutely no idea of where she is going. Soon, she is completely lost.

     Naturally (because this is a paranormal romance!) Kat runs into Connor, who happens to be in his jaguar form. Eventually, Connor and Maya (his sister) convince Kat to go with them to their crude hut a few miles away where Maya (on the spur of the moment) decides that she wants a sister and Connor needs a mate—so she scratches Kat and licks the open wound, thus turning Kat into a shape-shifting jaguar. Now, if Maya were a spoiled teenager, I might believe that she would do such a horrible thing. But Maya is an adult—a 30-year-old woman—and she never once stops to consider that Kat might have family, friends, or a lover whom she is looking forward to seeing as soon as she gets out of the jungle. Maya also never considers how Kat will react to the scratch or how she and Connor will get Kat safely out of the jungle after she becomes a newbie jaguar shifter. Here's how Maya thinks about the situation: "Maya had so badly wanted Kat to be Connor's mate that she hadn't considered all of the potential pitfalls. She was glad her brother didn't seem angry with her...He truly was interested in making Kat his mate, so how could he be too irritated with Maya when she had helped to make it happen?...Except now, they really did have a problem with getting Kat home safely without her shifting at the wrong time...But Maya was sure that she and Connor could come up with something that would get them through this situation intact...As for Kat, Maya was sure Kat would forgive her once she learned how advantageous being a shifter was and how wonderful having Connor as her mate would be. And Maya was not forgetting how Kat would have a sister all at once, too. Kat couldn't be unhappy about that." (p. 130) And here's Kat's take on what Maya did to her: "She didn't resent Maya for turning her. She wasn't sure why, but she really liked Maya. Maybe because she had never had a friend who would risk all to be there for her. Maya never put her down, never judged her." (p. 222) What makes this second quotation really disgusting is that in the Prologue, Kat's entire support team died trying to save her from the terrorists, yet she says here that Maya is her only "friend who would risk all to be there for her." Could these women be any more self-centered and vacuous?

     Maya comes across as a shallow, selfish, thoughtless brat, so I'm going to have a hard time seeing her as a heroine when it's her turn to hook up with her soul mate. To pile on even more improbability, Kat never chastises Maya for what she did (and really, neither does Connor). In fact, the two women actually do become instant "sisters," and, of course, Kat and Connor fall immediately in lust/love. All of this is mighty hard to swallow.

     Then there's the non-romantic part of the plot, which consists of the jaguar trio being chased around the jungle by the drug lord's minions, and always defeating them without suffering even a single scratch to their beautiful furry hides. There's also a mysterious male jaguar shifter stalking them and helping them out in their battles with the drug thugs. I'm guessing that he (his name is Wade Patterson) will turn out to be Maya's mate. Spear uses the third-person point of view, alternating among the three jaguar shifters, except near the end, when Wade is given a page or two. 

     I have to say that I'm surprised that this book is so far below the quality of Spear's WEREWOLF SERIES. The plot moves at a very slow pace with little suspense, and the characters are shallow and poorly developed. At the end, when Kat discovers exactly what was going on while she was floundering around in the jungle with her friends, I couldn't believe what I was reading. To imply that the U.S. Army would even considermuch less carry outthe dark and dishonorable things that Spear has them doing is shocking, to say the least. I'll give the next book a try, but I'm not feeling good about this series so far. To read an excerpt from Savage Hunger, click HERE to go to the book's Amazon.com page and then click on the cover art.

                 NOVEL 2:  Jaguar Fever                 
     The heroine of the second book is Maya Anderson, sister of the hero of book 1. If you've read book 1, you'll know that Maya is a thirty-something jaguar shifter with the emotional stability of a teen-ager. Unfortunately, she hasn't matured much since she and her brother left the rain forest behind and moved to Texas to open a nursery. Maya wants to meet some male shifters, but Connor has been over-protective and has kept her from doing much socializing. When Connor and his wife, Kat, leave for Belize a day and a half before Maya joins them, Maya decides to celebrate her independence by going alone to a disreputable shifter bar.

     Coincidentally, a pair of jaguar shifter twin brothers have that bar staked out. Wade and David Patterson are members of the Service, a "special government, a body that was started years ago to police jaguar shifters and attempt to protect our jaguar cousins who don't shape-shift." (p. 45) The Service has four branches: Enforcers, Guardians, Avengers, and Special Forces (aka the Golden Claw JAG). The Pattersons are Golden Claw agents. The brothers' current assignment is to bring down a gang of smugglers who are capturing wild jaguars in Belize and selling them to buyers who own vast ranges of land that they use for "hunts." They sell hunting passes to wealthy "hunters" who are allowed to kill the jaguars after tracking them on their ATVs

     Wade and Maya have a history that goes back to book 1. In that adventure, Wade protected and aided Connor, Kat, and Maya after they were attacked by drug dealers in the Amazon rain forest. Although Maya has seen Wade in his jaguar form, she has never seen him as a human. As soon as she meets him in the bar, though, she recognizes his scent and the two fall headlong in lust.

     The plot follows the usual two paths: the romance and the related action conflict. The romantic path to HEA is not too rough, although there are a few incidents in which each lover must rescue the other from life-threatening situations. Maya continues her immature behavior pattern as she takes one thoughtless risk after another, just as she did in book 1. The action part of the story concerns the jaguar smugglershumans who are aided by a pair of traitorous jaguar shifter brothers. The adventure moves from Texas to Belize and back to Texas as the good guys strive to defeat the bad guys without getting themselves killed.

     Once again, the story telling in this book is weak and flatnothing like Spear's top-notch WOLF SHIFTERS series. The good guys never seem to have much of a plan, and Maya just isn't a very interesting or engaging heroine. One of her hare-brained schemes takes place late in the story when she decides to pretend that she is furious with Wade so that he can dance with a woman who has some information. The mature, intelligent thing to do would be to plan this strategy ahead of time with Wade and David, but no, she just goes ahead with it, leaving the brothers shocked and puzzled over her strange actions. Maya also gets left alone a lot when her brother or the Pattersons or her cousins don't show up on time or have to take care of a major problem, etc. Each time that happens, readers can correctly take this as a cue that Maya will soon be getting herself into some kind of a jam. A trio of long-lost cousins is introduced into the plot early ontwo brothers and a sister. Unfortunately, they are pretty much superfluous to the plot, only helping out once and then having traffic problems (or airline problems) that keep them out of the real action. I'm guessing that these folks will become the stars of future books, and that is the only reason for their introduction here.

     The book contains several continuity problems that should have been caught in the editing. For example, on p. 836, Maya brings Connor up to date on her adventures at the club with the Pattersons, but she explicitly states that she doesn't tell Connor about the brawl she caused among the unmated male shifters. Then, a few pages later, Connor knows all about the brawl, which should not be possible because they have not had another conversation since she decided not to tell him about it. Later in the story, Connor again possesses information that he shouldn't have, information about a human woman at the club who claims to know something about the smugglersinformation Connor claims to have gotten from David. Since Connor hasn't had more than a passing conversation with David when he went to pick up some keys, how could Connor know these nitty-gritty details? I'll probably read the next book in the series, but at this point my expectations are not very high. To read an excerpt from Jaguar Fever, click HERE to go to the book's Amazon.com page and then click on the cover art.  

                 NOVEL 3:  Jaguar Hunt                 
     This book follows the same pattern as the previous two novels: a rapidly developing, idealized romance woven through scenes of frenetic, disjointed action that move back and forth between Dallas, Texas, and Belize. This time around, the lovers are David Patterson (brother of Wade, hero of book 2) and Tammy Anderson (cousin of siblings, Connor and Maya, lead lovers of books 1 and 2). David is a JAG agent and Tammy is a feline Enforcer. In book 2, we met Tammy and learned that she is searching for a jaguar (a real one—not a shifter) that was stolen from an Oregon zoo. As this book opens, David is assigned to be her partner on the case.

     The love story builds fast and runs smoothly for the most part. David is the very model of a perfect partner/mate/boyfriend/whatever: kind, intelligent, understanding, patient, and terrific in the bedroom (or in a jungle pool). Tammy is the typical feisty, snarky UF heroine we've seen so many times before. Their partnership begins when David overhears a conversation between a pair of jaguar-shifter teenage twin brothers who seem to know where the missing jaguar is being hidden. Almost immediately, everyone heads for Belize, and that's where the plot descends into muddled confusion.

     This story has enough red herrings to fill an ocean. The twins claim that some of the JAG agents are dirty, but they don't know which ones. Are the twins telling the truth? The whole truth? Various JAG agents keep turning up in Belize for unknown purposes. Which of them can be trusted? Then another set of twins enters the story. Are they friends or suspects? Then a circus gets involved. Is the circus the true owner of the jaguar, or did the circus steal the animal from the zooor from someone else? Between multiple affairs, one studly, womanizing suspect jumps from being an ex-JAG agent (fired) to a circus manager (fired again) to a bouncer at a shifter nightclub. And just when you begin to think you've figured out what's going on, things get really freaky because it seems that the hero and heroine have had affairs with the suspects. So…two sets of twins, various JAG agents behaving weirdly, shots fired, zip-line cable tampered with, hotel rooms ransacked, and too many ex-girlfriends and ex-boyfriends to count. The hero and one of the villains have actually dated many of the same women, including the heroine. Ewww…it feels incestuous. Really, after awhile, I was just flipping through the pages, hoping it would end. The resolution comes very near the end (p. 309) when one of the characters stops the action and sums everything up in a paragraph or two—what a relief that was.


     Not only is the plot jam-packed with misleading characters and situations, it is also pitted with many, many holes. For example, David and Tammy get perfect cell phone reception in Belize, right up until the moment that they need to make an urgent call to their bosses. Then, no signal. Another example: David suddenly gains access to all the evidence they need to solve the case (and how he happens to have this access is completely implausible). Then, one major piece of evidence is a pile of receipts for sales of stolen merchandise. What kind of crook keeps sales receipts for things that he steals and then sells illegally? I am so disappointed in this series because I enjoyed Spear's wolf series, and this one pales in comparison. To read an excerpt from Jaguar Hunt, click HERE to go to the book's Amazon.com page and then click on the cover art.  

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